AgricultureElection 2018News

2 Colo. representatives absent as U.S. House defeats farm bill

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 23, 2018 - Updated: June 7, 2018

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A pivot irrigation system in a farming field with Longs Peak in the background. (Photo by RondaKinbrow, istockphoto)

The U.S. House of Representatives intends to take another stab at a 10-year re-authorization of the federal farm bill after that measure failed May 18 — a vote for which two Colorado congressmen representing farm areas were absent.

H.R. 2 — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 — died on May 18 on a vote of 198-213, with all Democrats, save 10 who didn’t vote, against it.

Democrats — including Colorado’s Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter — were joined in opposition by 30 Republicans, including 15 known members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, in voting down the bill. Colorado GOP congressmen Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton were among the “yes” votes.

Two Colorado congressmen were missing from the vote tally: Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder and Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Greeley, whose Colorado districts include agricultural areas.

immigration Rep. Ken Buck
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor. (Photo courtesy of the congressman’s office)

Buck, a member of the Freedom Caucus, is one of three members who didn’t vote on the farm bill and 12 other roll call votes on amendments related to the farm bill. Polis also missed all 13 votes.

The farm bill did get support from about half of the Freedom Caucus — 17 “yes” votes in all from caucus members.

The Colorado Farm Bureau wasn’t pleased with the vote. In a statement, the bureau decried the bill’s defeat, stating “the farm bill is needed now more than ever. Without the farm bill, farmers and ranchers are left without resources, financing options and basic support to be able to do business.”

H.R. 2 would have extended for five years programs on farm subsidies, land conservation, trade promotion, rural development, research, forestry and horticulture, all under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the biggest program in the package is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the nation’s food stamp program. SNAP was estimated to cost $65 billion per year for the next 10 years, nearly double its cost from just a decade ago, right before the start of the Great Recession.

The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated that putting more work requirements on SNAP recipients would kick up to 2 million people off the program, saving about $20 billion. House Republicans on the agriculture committee deny it, and that’s not exactly how the Congressional Budget Office saw it either, in its April 18 analysis.

The CBO estimated the bill’s total cost at $867 billion over 10 years, an increase of $3.2 billion in the first five years. Most of the increase would go to SNAP, at about $1.8 billion, the CBO said, a result of training program costs for those recipients.

But both the CBO and a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office say those programs don’t show signs of being effective, despite some programs that have been in place since the 1960s.

Trump administration demands for SNAP work changes are believed to be one of the factors that killed the bill, drawing opposition from all the Democrats. President Donald Trump had threatened to veto any farm bill that didn’t include expanded work requirements.

But there’s a second, bigger factor in the bill’s loss and that’s the muscle from the Freedom Caucus, which includes Buck.

According to national news reports, the Freedom Caucus wanted assurances from leadership on a vote related to a separate immigration bill, which they didn’t get. House Republican leaders had hoped they had enough votes from their caucus to pass the bill without any help from Democrats, who claimed they were denied an opportunity for input on the bill.

Buck spokesman Kyle Huwa told Colorado Politics that Buck wasn’t in Washington on April 18. “He was told the day before the vote, by leadership, that they didn’t have the votes and that the H.R 2 vote would be delayed,” Huwa said. Instead, Buck was back in Colorado, moderating a panel discussion that included the director of the Office of Management and Budget. That director, Mick Mulvaney, is a former congressman who was also a member of the Freedom Caucus.

As to how Buck would vote, Huwa said the congressman is “still evaluating the farm bill and looks forward to assessing and voting on whatever version of the bill comes to the floor next.”

Karen McCormick, who is vying with Chase Kohne in the Democratic primary to face Buck in November, is opposed to the farm bill in its current form. In a May 17 statement, McCormick did not address the work requirement issue for the SNAP program.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis gestures after accepting his nomination for governor at the 2018 Colorado Democratic State Assembly at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield on April 14. (Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) at the 2018 Colorado Democratic State Assembly at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on April 14. (Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)

Polis sent a letter in April to the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture with his ideas for the farm bill but did not address the food stamp program or the work requirement.

Polis, a candidate for governor, was in Colorado at the time of the vote. However, a spokesperson said he had sponsored three amendments to the farm bill earlier in the week, all which were defeated, including one on hemp.

A Senate version of  H.R. 2 has not yet been introduced, but a version that models the one from the House is seen as unlikely to succeed in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota will be the sponsor of the Senate version. In an interview with AgWeb last month, Thune said he expects the Senate version to be bipartisan but that he “has no problem with the way the nutrition program” (SNAP) was laid out in the House bill.

CLARIFICATION: Two candidates are running in the Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District seat now held by Republican Ken Buck. An earlier version of this story may have implied otherwise.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.